Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sand Lizards...

Where do you take a visiting Canadian colleague (and their partner), who's into herpetology? Luckily for me the decision turned out to be fairly easy as Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis was high on their hit list and I knew just where to look for them.

Saturday looked promising from a weather perspective, so we headed off towards Dorset to start our search. It wasn't long before we found our first lizard, a large, if slightly faded male.

Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
This was closely followed by more males thermoregulating in the April sunshine. Those we found got progressively greener as the morning went on.

Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris

We also found a Slow Worm Anguis fragilis and our last find of the day, a lovely young male Grass Snake Natrix n. helvetica, who was just starting to slough. That's all six native reptiles plus Wall Lizard seen so far this year.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male.
Just about to slough its skin: R.Harris
Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male: R.Harris
Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male: R.Harris
Always fun to see a person's reaction to Grass Snake musk the first time they smell it. I wasn't laughing though when I realised the hand wipes I carry for just such an occasion, were in the other car! Oh well, we'd just have to stop at a pub to wash our hands and quench our thirst.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Early Spider Orchids...

Although Roger and I have seen Early Spider Orchids many times over the years it’s been a long time since we saw them in good numbers. As its name suggests they’re one of the first orchids flowering in the year, so with the promise of good weather we decided to head to the Isle of Purbeck. This area along the south Dorset coast is one of the main strongholds of the orchid in the UK and also the place where we first saw them over 30 years ago. The Early Spider was one of the first rare plants we ever went in search of and certainly the first rare orchid that we ticked off.

Leaving early it was a little over an hour until we were driving through the lovely Dorset countryside. Purbeck is rolling hills running down to some of the most stunning coastline in England. Parking at Worth Matravers we headed off down one of the many footpaths that join up with the South West Coast Path. After about 45 minutes we were on the coast proper and walking along the beautiful chalky cliffs.

Purbeck Coast, home to Early Spider Orchids
Me (Duncan) adding to my botanical photo collection 

The grassland here is botanically rich and later in the year is a riot of colour, in April it’s a bit more subdued but that makes it easier to spot the orchids. Most are only a few inches high, once you have your eye-in they become easier to see, little green stems with dark brown blobs on them. Closer the similarity to a spider becomes evident, beautifully marked flowers with quite a diverse range of markings.

Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchids, 3-4 inches of
velvety-brown rareness: R.Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: R. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, var. flavescens
Purbeck: R. Harris
We were fortunate enough to see hundreds if not thousands in the two fields we walked and you have to remember that only a short walk inland and you lose them altogether. After a couple of hours we headed back to the car, the walk uphill a lot harder in the by then brilliant sunshine.

In addition to the orchids we had exceptionally close views of a Skylark, a couple of kestrels including this smart male, a single Wheatear, and singing Blackcaps. Noticeable by their absence were the expected Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and hirundines!  A short drive back to Wareham Forest provided good views of Sand Lizard Lacerta agillis as a nice way of finishing the trip.

Kestrel, male: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Sand Lizard, Lacerta agillis: R. Harris

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Wall Lizards...

It's been a couple of years since I last saw the Ventnor Wall Lizards Podarcis muralis. You really have to see them on a warm sunny day to see them at their best and today reached the dizzy high of 15 degrees with clear blue skies, so it was time to take another look.

I was surprised to see so many males, at least 9 and only a couple of females - it's always been the other way around on previous visits. They showed very well indeed, these green-backed individuals are of the race P. m. nigriventris with their ancestral roots in northern Italy.

Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis nigriventris, male
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis nigriventris, male
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis nigriventris, male
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis nigriventris, male
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis nigriventris, male

Also had another large female Adder Vipera berus soaking up the sun this morning.

Adder Vipera berus, female 
Common Adder Vipera berus, female 
Common Adder Vipera berus, female 

With a couple of days of our holiday left, I wonder if there are anymore adders to be seen? I've also been running the bat detector at our holiday cottage and had four species on the wing this week: Common pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Brown long-eared and Serotine! I just love the Isle-of-Wight.

Saturday, 1 April 2017


I've been visiting the Isle-of-Wight regularly now for many years during the Easter holiday and this year's no exception. It's like stepping back in time, in more ways than one, and we always have a relaxing time here.

It's also one of the best places I know of these days for seeing Common Adders Vipera berus. In my part of the South West they have all but vanished but here I can almost guarantee sightings in the Spring. This visit yielded the first specimen within an hour of landing on the Island. 

Common Adder Vipera berus,  nr Freshwater, I-O-W
This one is just about to slough. 

And with the Nikon P900 I can get a decent shot without disturbance, nice to walk away and leave this one sunning itself - it's important not to disturb them, particularly when they have recently emerged and are gearing up for the breeding season ahead.

2nd April: Another female today near Blackgang Chine - what a beauty! This was about as big as you normally see in the UK.

Vipera berus, female- Blackgang Chine, I-O-W

Also had a Red Kite nearby at St Catherine's Oratory, which drifted in off the sea.

Red Kite, I-O-W